Cowboys’ $1m elephant in room; why there’s no excuse for Eels: Every NRL clubs spine rated
However, their impressive spines don’t always translate to success with Brad Arthur’s Parramatta outfit missing out on finals.
Meanwhile, the Knights punched well above their weight but proved to many they have what it takes to compete with the NRL’s big guns.
Here, foxsports.com.au breaks down every team’s spine for the 2024 season and rates them from one to 10.
PANTHERS — 10
Fullback: Dylan Edwards
Halves: Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai
Hooker: Mitch Kenny
Lock: Isaah Yeo
Not much has to be said about this spine.
Each member has played a crucial role in Penrith’s premiership three-peat, with four out of five players earning representative honours in 2023.
Mitch Kenny’s inclusion as the club’s starting No.9 was also questioned coming in to last season, but he passed with flying colours and proved to be one of the club’s unsung heroes.
The Panthers have three of their spine locked down long-term, but both Kenny and Jarome Luai are off-contract.
If Penrith powerbrokers can keep this group together for the long haul they will remain hard to beat for years to come.
BRONCOS — 9.5
Fullback: Reece Walsh
Halves: Adam Reynolds and Ezra Mam
Hooker: Billy Walters
Lock: Pat Carrigan
This spine came desperately close to toppling one of the best teams in NRL history.
The partnership of young and old in the halves proved fruitful for the Broncos in 2023, coming only minutes from lifting the premiership.
Ezra Mam’s development was one of the huge success stories of the season, earning him the gong of Dally M Five-eighth of the Year while Pat Carrigan was named as lock in the same team.
Reece Walsh, meanwhile, proved to be one of the game’s best attacking weapons and likely missed out on selection due to suspension.
Billy Walters also played a role admirably and got better as the season went on, putting in some huge finals performances.
One thing to watch will be whether Kevin Walters can keep his spine together with the likes of Walsh and Mam set for bumper contract upgrades.
The Broncos reportedly are in talks to tie the duo down on a $5 million package deal but with nothing official, teams will be lining up to poach them.
WARRIORS — 9
Fullback: Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad
Halves: Shaun Johnson and Luke Metcalf
Hooker: Wade Egan
Lock: Tohu Harris
The Warriors well and truly exceeded expectations in 2023 and this spine was a key factor in their finals charge.
Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, in his first year back in New Zealand, proved he is a reliably fullback and delivered week in, week out under Andrew Webster.
Shaun Johnson was arguably the competition’s best and most consistent player last season and came one vote away from winning the Dally M Medal.
His halves partner, Luke Metcalf, also only played a handful of games through injury but it was clear he is a star in the making.
Wade Egan cemented himself as one of the NRL’s best hooker and his ability to square up and give his halves space is second to none.
To cap off their spine, Tohu Harris is a workhorse and a leader, proving to be an extension of Webster on the field.
STORM — 9.5
Fullback: Nick Meaney
Halves: Jahrome Hughes and Cameron Munster
Hooker: Harry Grant
Lock: Josh King
This spine is ridiculously strong on paper and will only get stronger once Ryan Papenhuyzen returns.
Nick Meaney played the whole season at fullback and as such has been named in this spine, with Papenhuyzen suffering a broken leg to close out his season.
He performed admirably filling in at the back, while Josh King was also a solid contributor at lock and rarely makes a mistake.
In the halves Craig Bellamy’s side truly pack and punch and the halves pairing of Cameron Munster and Jahrome Hughes is a feared one across the NRL.
Meanwhile, Harry Grant is arguable the competition’s best hooker and consistently torments defensive lines for both Melbourne, Queensland and his country.
KNIGHTS — 8
Fullback: Kalyn Ponga
Halves: Tyson Gamble and Jackson Hastings
Hooker: Jayden Brailey
Lock: Adam Elliott
Kalyn Ponga spearheads this spine, having won the Dally M Medal in 2023 after a huge back-end to his season.
The gun fullback is a genuine star and makes everyone around him a better player.
Tyson Gamble performed to his potential last year, but it remains to be seen if he can keep new recruit Jack Cogger out of the halves.
Meanwhile, Jackson Hastings’ organisaitonal skills and team management are vital to this Knights outfit.
Jayden Brailey spent majority of the season sidelined with a knee injury but is a gun hooker at his best, while Adam Elliott is also a solid lock and enjoyed a good season for his first 12 months in the Hunter.
SHARKS — 8
Fullback: Will Kennedy
Halves: Nicho Hynes and Brayden Trindall
Hooker: Blayke Brailey
Lock: Dale Finucane
This Sharks spine was missing Will Kennedy and Dale Finucane for extended periods last season due to injury and suspensions.
However, on paper it is a solid group of players led by one of the NRL’s best in the No.7 jersey in Nicho Hynes.
Finucane is one of the competition’s best leaders while Kennedy on his day can create points from anywhere on the field.
Braydon Trindall also performed admirably after replacing Matt Moylan mid-season while Blayke Brailey was named in the NSW Blues squad last year.
RAIDERS — 6
Fullback: Jordan Rapana/Xavier Savage
Halves: Jamal Fogarty Kaeo Weekes
Hooker: Zac Woolford
Lock: Corey Horsburgh
The Raiders look to be heading towards a rebuild after the departure of Jack Wighton and the retirement of Jordan Rapana, Elliott Whitehead and Josh Papalii at the end of 2024.
Ricky Stuart has a big decision to make at fullback, regarding whether he should go with youth and hand Xavier Savage the fullback spot or stick with Rapana.
Either way he goes, both players are solid attacking options but can struggle at times in defence.
Kaeo Weekes also looks likely to get the nod in the No.6 alongside the consistent Jamal Fogarty.
Zac Woolford could once again be the starting hooker, with Tom Starling or Danny Levi on the bench.
In a huge boost to this spine, Corey Horsburgh had a career-best season in 2023 and will be a key player for the Raiders in 2024.
ROOSTERS — 9
Fullback: James Tedesco
Halves: Sam Walker and Luke Keary
Hooker: Brandon Smith
Lock: Victor Radley
The Roosters have a stacked spine on paper.
James Tedesco, despite a sub-par 2023 campaign by his own standards, is one of the best fullbacks in the game and also has big game experience.
Victor Radley is a genuine star but on-field disciplinary issues continue to plague his game.
Brandon Smith is also a dangerous No.9 and warmed in to his season in 2023 once he began gelling with his new teammates after arriving from the Storm in the off-season. If he can build on the end to his first season in Bondi he could prove the X-factor needed to return Trent Robinson’s side back into the top four.
Meanwhile, the halves pairing of Sam Walker and Luke Keary is incredibly solid and Keary has won premierships in the past.
Walker also was solid upon his return to first grade after he was axed by coach Trent Robinson.
RABBITOHS — 9
Fullback: Latrell Mitchell
Halves: Cody Walker and Lachlan Ilias
Hooker: Damien Cook
Lock: Cameron Murray
The Rabbitohs are another spine stacked with star players.
Latrell Mitchell is one of the NRL’s most dynamic and dangerous players and on his day can tear teams apart with ease.
Cameron Murray is also a gun lock and his motor is a major contributor to the Rabbitohs success and their ability to play finals football.
Damien Cook is a representative level dummy-half and is one of the most dangerous players out of the ruck in the world.
Meanwhile, Cody Walker is an incredibly creative and damaging creative five-eighth and Lachlan Ilias is a solid performer.Ad
He is currently a free agent and could field offers worth up to $1 million-per-season